Originally Published: November 29, 2017 5:59 a.m.
U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, (D-NJ) just escaped conviction for corruption because of a hung jury. The Supreme Court has made it almost impossible to convict dirty politicians. It’s part of a pattern of naive assumptions the court has been making that wreak damage.
News reports document enough evidence to suggest he’s guilty, but just last year the court set a new, almost impossible standard for corruption cases. It’s no longer enough that someone gives a lot of money to a politician and the politician does some very nice, official things for the donor. It used to be that was assumed to be tit-for-tat. That had to be the assumption. It was the only way to keep the system relatively clean. That’s why politicians avoided those arrangements, or tried to hide them.
I wrote back in 2011 how the court had been undermining those standards. Between the court and a Federal Elections Committee locked in inaction: First, corporations were freed to give unlimited amounts to PACs if they were reported. Second, reporting was eliminated by the GOP’s refusal to allow the FEC to regulate it. Third, politicians were allowed to directly hit-up donors for huge donations to the PACs supporting them. Legalized bribery.
In the recent ruling the court said that if a politician does big favors for a big donor, but claims they would have done those favors anyway, they can’t be convicted. We have to prove what was in the politician’s head. As if a thief said he didn’t mean to steal that diamond ring, it just fell in his pocket, and we have to believe him.
A single donor gave tens of millions for a campaign to influence who was nominated to the Supreme Court. The money was given to a charity so the donor can remain secret. The charity in turn gives the money to a political group to use. The charity and the group are supposed to be separate, but the charity is run by a wife, whose husband is the treasurer of the group. So much for separation.
Menendez case shows Supreme Court has made bribery conviction harder.
Kochs funding school voucher campaign
My 2011 column on legalized bribery
When the court ruled in the case of Citizens United, which allowed corporations unlimited political spending, Justice Kennedy, as the swing vote, wrote that he only saw this as workable because he had some naive vision of every corporate-paid ad being clearly called out. He seemed to envision, “This pro-smoking ad paid for by big tobacco” or, “This ad for school vouchers paid for by the Koch brothers.” He seemed to have no clue how such spending would be hidden or obscured, or that the tobacco industry could simply form a public relations branch named Citizens for Clean Air, so their ads would be, “Paid for by Citizens for Clean Air.”
It has just come out that a single, secret, donor provided funding for a huge campaign to influence the Supreme Court pick, using similar tricks. See the links with this column online. Hidden money directly altering Justice Kennedy’s world. Any comment Justice Kennedy? Maybe, “Oops!”?
If they were to revisit that case, now that big money has been having its way, often by hidden means, it seems likely that Justice Kennedy couldn’t rationalize allowing it.
The 2016 ruling seems to have even worse naiveté to it. While the court gives rulings for some ideal world, the real world of corrupt politicians and ruthless, powerful interests go wild like a coyote in the chicken coop. Oops!
Tom Cantlon is a local business owner and writer and can be reached at comments at tomcantlon.com.